Children’s book historian Leonard S. Marcus, writing in The Horn Book, called author and illustrator David Ezra Stein “One of the most gifted younger artists working today.”
David was born in Brooklyn, NY. By the time he was one-and-a-half, he was asking adults, “Wanna come to my room? Read books?” This love of reading grew into a love of telling stories, and then, writing.
David Ezra Stein’s INTERRUPTING CHICKEN was awarded a 2011 Caldecott Honor, as well as many state awards. His picture book LEAVES won the Ezra Jack Keats award and was a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year, a Kirkus Reviews Editor’s Choice, and a School Library Journal Best Book.
For what age audience do you write?
To date, I have written for ages birth to 7 or 8. In other words, picture book age. But I include many levels to my picture books, such that an adult will enjoy reading them just as much.
Henry: I love multi-layered picture books. I’m working on one now with fruit and vegetable characters, but there’s an entire layer of word play on top that is for the benefit of older readers.
Tell us about your latest book.
TAD AND DAD is the story of a fast-growing little tadpole who loves his dad so much that he won’t be separated from him, even at night. As Tad gains new skills, Dad cheers him on during the day and endures sleepless nights of his little one jumping on his head.
Henry: There is a lot of humor and love in that story.
What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?
The book is a love letter to dads, and points to the complexities of a dad’s relationship with his kids. I hope dads will curl up with their kids and share lots of warm moments together reading the book.
Henry: But by reading this book, do dads risk encouraging their young kids to jump on their heads at night?
What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?
All the procrastination and avoidance techniques we writers build up. I think the better you get, the more wily your self interference can become. This also goes for beginners; they are even more accustomed to believing in their reasons to not start writing. Just write, and the rest will come.
Henry: “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.”
What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?
On the flip side of just writing, you can’t live only on the page. You need to lead a full life and a happy life to be productive. And everything you do in that life, every failing, or quirk, or wish, or experience can be used by you in your work.
Henry: Plus, if you like eating food, wearing clothes, and having a roof over your head, you should probably have a day job.
What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?
Watching school kids put on skits based on my first book, COWBOY NED & ANDY. They even had actors to play fictionalized versions of me and my wife.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
See above. Just write. Learn to turn off the inner critic and learn to be your own best supporter.
Henry: While I agree, writers must turn off their inner critic, it is absolutely essential to use critiques from fellow writers to hone your craft and illuminate your writing blind spots.
Do you have any favorite quotes?
“There’s nothing to it but to do it.”
Henry: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” – Winston Churchill
And: “There are only two ways to do something: The right way, and the wrong way.”
Henry: “There are only two ways to do something: My wife’s way, and the wrong way.” – Unknown
Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?
I put my doubts and fears into a box. Julia Cameron calls it “the god box.” You put them in there, and let god handle ‘em. It really frees you up to do your work.
Henry: Available at a big box store near you.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
Flying. Because I’ve done it so many times in my dreams; I know I’d love it. The speed, the new perspective. The wind. The freedom.
Henry: People rarely think through the ramifications of superpowers. For example, flying would be awesome, but it would have to be done low and slow. I have a fake interview with Edna Mode (from The Incredibles movie) to explain why.
If you could have three authors (dead or alive) over for dinner, who would it be?
I first have to answer this question by saying, Alive. Because I don’t enjoy having dead people over for dinner. Then, to answer the question for real: P.G. Wodehouse, James Marshall, and Arnold Lobel. I’d be afraid to talk to Wodehouse, but I’d just like to observe him, watch how he drinks his tea. I feel like James Marshall would have a good, big laugh. And I’d ask Arnold Lobel to doodle on a napkin for me.
Henry: Good point, though the dead eat less. Arnold Lobel, of course, is the Caldecott and Newbery Honor winning author/illustrator behind FROG & TOAD. Wikipedia helpfully adds:
“Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, KBE (1881 – 1975) was an English author and one of the most widely read humorists of the 20th century. His early novels were mostly school stories, but he later switched to comic fiction, creating several regular characters who became familiar to the public over the years. They include the feather-brained Bertie Wooster and his sagacious valet, Jeeves; the immaculate and loquacious Psmith; the feeble-minded Lord Emsworth and the Blandings Castle set; the loquacious Oldest Member, with stories about golf; and the equally loquacious Mr Mulliner, with tall tales on subjects ranging from bibulous bishops to megalomaniac movie moguls.
James Edward Marshall (1942 – 1992) was an American illustrator and writer of children’s books, probably best known for the George and Martha series of picture books (1972–1988). He illustrated books exclusively as James Marshall; when he created both text and illustrations he sometimes wrote as Edward Marshall. In 2007 the U.S. professional librarians posthumously awarded him the biennial Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal for “substantial and lasting contribution” to American children’s literature.”
What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?
Gurgi from the Taran books by Lloyd Alexander. Because he was so dirty and loveable and needy and just seems like he SHOULD exist.
Henry: Wow, what an interesting choice. Many people favor the more dramatic dragon. I loved how Gurgi spoke: “Crunchings and munchings.” But I fear he struck me as somewhat derivative of Gollum. That said, I thought Alexander’s creation of an oracular pig (and making his protagonist an assistant pig-keeper) was pure genius.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Swim, run, cook, go out oil painting, sing in a choir.
Henry: But not all at the same time. Oil paints mess up the swimming pool.
What would you like it to say on your tombstone?
He died laughing.
Henry: OK, then I’m not telling any more jokes to you on Facebook.
Where can readers find your work?
All indie bookstores and sometimes even in Barnes & Noble. Go figure!
Henry: Thanks for visiting with us, David. This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.